Bunge is exploring an upgrade at their Destrehan grain elevator that would result in the construction of a new dock, but the plans received poor reception from local residents who attended a town hall meeting concerning the project.
The grain elevator employs around 140 workers and while the construction project is estimated to cost over $40 million and result in numerous construction jobs, it would not create any new permanent positions.
Matt Kerrigan, facility manager at Bunge, said the construction would not include any expansion of the plant.
“This is just an upgrade. The capacity would be the same,” he said.
Bunge’s facility upgrade center on the construction of a new dock that would stretch about two blocks from Modoc Street to Lorraine Street. The current dock, located between Jonathan and James Drive, would be demolished.
The grain elevator would also upgrade the conveyer equipment that transports grain from barges to the facility’s silos. The current conveyer system has been in place since 1962 and would be replaced by a new system Kerrigan said would result in less dust, a common complaint from nearby neighbors.
“The new system would be enclosed and would have more vacuums located throughout,” Kerrigan said.
Kerrigan also said a system that sprays water over the area to keep dust from rising and spreading throughout the community would also be improved.
“The misting system should be a lot better than what we put in place in 1962,” he said.
In addition to the waterfront improvements, Bunge is simultaneously planning the construction of a new central office building that would allow the staffs from the two facilities on the site to be combined into one structure.
Construction of the 12,000 square-foot-building is estimated to cost up to $3 million.
Both plans are currently awaiting rezoning permits from the St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Department and construction on the river and batture is also awaiting approval from federal agencies including the Corps of Engineers and Department of Natural Resources.
If permitted, Kerrigan said the construction would take at least two years to complete.
However, the company is facing stiff opposition. Local residents, who are sandwiched between the Archer Daniels Midland grain elevator to the west and Bunge to the east, are complaining that the dust and loud noises created by the grain elevators are a nuisance to the neighborhood and that more of an effort should be made to reduce the problems.
James Garris, a 12-year resident of the area, was skeptical of the plan.
“What percentage do you think it will cut down on the dust?” he asked.
Kerrigan responded that he could not provide a definite answer.
“I don’t know if we could put a number on it,” he said.
Those living in the area where the new conveyer system would be placed also expressed fear that the new construction would devalue their property.
Joan Gabler, who lives on Lorraine Street where the new dock would end, asked if an economic analysis had been completed by Bunge.
“That’s what is important to us. We don’t want to see our property values decrease,” she said.
Kerrigan said that no such study had yet been undertaken and that the current plans were only one option although they had not yet looked at alternatives.
Bryan D’Oriocourt has been living in the neighborhood since 1970. He said while residents have to put up with a lot of negative effects from the grain elevators, the industry has not done anything for them.
“I can see how the rezoning and construction project would help you all, but what is it going to do for us?” he said.
Councilman Larry Cochran, who formerly represented the area, said he understands the distrust residents have and said that Bunge should make more of effort in the community.
“The least they could do is provide a car wash where residents can get the dust off of their cars,” he said.
Toni and Cynthia Portera grew up in their family home on River Road in Destrehan. Their family’s ownership in the area predates the grain elevator by about 40 years when their father purchased the home in 1922. They are perhaps Bunge’s most vocal critics.
Toni took over the meeting momentarily pointing out that parish attorney Leon “Sunny” Vial had a conflict of interest due to providing legal work for Bunge in the past and working for the parish now. She also accused the parish’s Planning and Zoning Department of kowtowing to Bunge, who she claims is attempting to build in opposition to parish ordinance and outside of their footprint.
Cynthia said they were offered a buyout by Bunge.
“They are so cheap. For a five bedroom brick house and four acres of roadfront commercial property they only offered us $205,000,” she said.
Garris also said he had been in talks with Bunge to sell his property, however, they had not yet come to fruition.
“They told me they were going to get an appraiser out here,” he said. “I don’t have much of an excuse though. I’ve only been out here 12 years. Some of the others have been here long before they were here.”
The meeting was the third Bunge has had on the proposed construction projects this year. The rezoning necessary for it to be undertaken is likely to be brought up by the Parish Council in the coming months.